The arrival of a newborn baby into the world is always a source of joy in a family. The care of the newborn and the concern for its health will be topics that will invade the head of the parents during the first months and years of life.

However, there is a terrible condition that can cause the sudden death of the baby: sudden infant death syndrome . In this article we will talk about it, what can cause it, and we will provide some guidelines to avoid it.

What is sudden infant death syndrome?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as sudden infant death , crib death or white death; is a rare event in which a child under the age of one and apparently healthy dies suddenly and without apparent explanation.

Usually, when this happens the parents usually find the newborn dead hours after putting him/her to bed and with no apparent signs of suffering. Since the death is sudden and without known causes, there is no previous symptomatology that can alert the parents to the risk of this syndrome.

Finally, an indispensable condition for these cases to be considered as sudden infant death syndrome is that, after a complete autopsy and investigation, the causes of the baby’s death remain unexplained .

The steps to be taken for a proper evaluation of the case are: a complete autopsy, an examination and recognition of the place of death and its circumstances, and a thorough review of the medical history of the newborn and his or her family.

As for the incidence of this strange condition, in most cases around 90%, it usually occurs between 2 and 6 months of age of the baby ; the number of deaths in the winter months has increased considerably.

Although SIDS is responsible for far fewer deaths than congenital disorders and disorders associated with premature birth, it is considered the leading cause of death in babies one month old and older without any condition.

Statistics show that in the European Union this syndrome occurs with a probability of between 1.5 and 2 deaths per 1,000. Likewise, if we focus only on Spain, it is responsible for between 0.15 and 0.23 deaths per 1,000 babies born alive .

Causes and risk factors

As mentioned above, the exact causes of SIDS are not yet known. However, some lines of research have recently been opened that relate this syndrome to various causes.

The two theories that are getting the most support from the medical community are those that relate the death of the baby to problems in sleep stimulation , that is, the baby could suffer some kind of alteration in the ability to wake up.

The second hypothesis theorizes that the baby’s body would not be able to detect the accumulation of carbon dioxide levels in the blood , the failure of this reflex would lead the baby to death.

However, the number of infant deaths due to SIDS has declined significantly in recent years. In particular, since health workers have emphasized recommendations to place the baby on his or her back and never on his or her stomach. So sleeping posture, and easier breathing, may also be related.

Risk factors

Risk factors associated with sudden infant death syndrome include the following.

    • Newborn exposure to tobacco smoke. A large number of babies who die from this syndrome have higher concentrations of nicotine and cotinine in their lungs than babies who die from other causes.
  • Laying the baby on its stomach .
  • Ambient temperature too high.
  • Excessive use of bedding, cushions or stuffed animals.
  • Putting the baby to bed on a mattress that is too soft .
  • Babies born to teenage mothers.
  • Consecutive pregnancies.
  • Poor feeding of the mother during pregnancy .
  • Overweight in the mother.
  • Inadequate prenatal care.
  • Babies born of premature births.
  • Sex of the baby. SIDS appears more in boys than in girls .
  • Born weighing less than 1.5 kg.
  • Family history.
  • Drug use .
  • Multiple births.

While it is clearly determined that all of these above risk factors pose a threat to the child’s life, the level of influence of each on the onset of the syndrome is not yet fully determined.

Tips for prevention

Given the complexity of this syndrome and the lack of knowledge that still exists about it, it is essential that parents of newborns take into account a series of care guidelines in order to avoid, in all possible ways, this evil to appear.

In order to provide support for parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a series of recommendations :

1. Always place the baby on his back

Both at bedtime at night and during naps during the day the baby should sleep on his back .

2. Lying the baby down on a firm surface

The baby should be placed on a firm and stable surface, such as a crib or a bed prepared for babies, and, for example, never on a sofa .

3. Putting babies to bed in the same room as parents

This will facilitate the work of attention, care and feeding of the child.

4. Avoid soft mattresses

The baby should rest on a stable, firm, tightly fitting crib mattress with no loose parts or fabrics . The use of cushions, sheets or duvets should also be avoided.

5. Checking the room temperature

Check that the temperature of the rooms is not too high. The ideal temperature is one in which an adult is comfortable wearing light clothing . Also, check that the baby is not hot to the touch.

6. Use pacifiers or bottles before bedtime

It is hypothesized that the use of pacifiers or bottles helps to open the airway, as well as prevent the baby from falling into a deep sleep.

7. Do not smoke around the baby

It is essential to keep the baby free from the effect of tobacco smoke , so it is absolutely contraindicated to smoke near the baby or in any of the rooms where the baby stays.

8. Avoiding alcohol and drug use

Although this point seems obvious, it is necessary to remember that any type of substance use during or after pregnancy can pose a great risk to the health of the baby.

9. Breastfeeding

It has been shown that practicing breastfeeding habits can reduce infections affecting the respiratory tract , which can influence the development of this syndrome.